(2014) David Ramirez, Hodder and Stoughton, £14.99, hrdbk, 326pp, ISBN 978-1-444-478790-0
As someone dabbling with their very own 'generation ship' novel, I am a sucker for reading other author's attempts at this sub-genre, and David Ramirez has come up with a cracker in his first book, namely, the dystopian novel The Forever Watch (Editor - which is not to be confused with the Sergei Lukyanenko 'Watch' series of novels).
Earth is no more, left far behind, although few on board 'The Noah' know exactly what fate befell the old mother planet, except that it is incapable of sustaining life with a desolate landscape and even deadlier atmosphere. Certainly, City Planner, Hana Dempsey has other things to worry about. She is an essential part of the crew, known as a 'mission critical', and has the 'touch' – the ability to move and reshape objects with her mind, but she is on a bit of a downer, having gone through her mandatory 'Breeding Duty', carrying and giving birth to a child she will never see, but extreme diversion comes along in the shape of her friend, Policeman Leonard Barrens who is still shook up by the violent death of his superior, Callahan, except when the two of them investigate that death the records of Information Security simply show that Barrens' friend was 'retired', yet when they dig below the surface they uncover other 'retirements', or 'Meatgrinder' cases as Barrens christens them, where those involved have possibly been the victim of a serial killer that stalks the vast ship, although somehow these killings have gone on for centuries, so how can that be? How can a killer survive that long, or is it even worse, is there a secret society of killers on board the ship?
One of my favourite novels is William Gibson's groundbreaking Neuromancer, not because of its cyberpunkery, but because it is a multi-faceted novel – first and foremost, science fiction, obviously, but also it is an adventure story, an espionage tale, possibly even a love story. Likewise The Forever Watch embraces different genres and sub-genres bringing together science fiction, crime, police procedural, romance, adventure, and many more that to mention here would spoil the plot of a novel that twists and turns into something else as it develops, moving anyway from the origins of the story into something darker and more thought-provoking, but ultimately a tale that has no easy answers. Ramirez has a crisp, straight forward, writing style, creating believable characters and dialogue, and situations, particular around the psychic talents that Hana and her fellow crewmates have, like telepathy and telekinesis, as well as having enhanced strength. Ramirez has clearly given considerable thought to his interior world-building of life within 'The Noah' which is based, partly, on what life was like back on Earth even down to the weather systems and onboard seasons, even fake stars and moon and a horizon, on well, uh, the horizon. There is even a breeze. This is not a ship where people lie in cryo-pods or whatever (except when they are on nine months 'breeding duty'). They live, they work, they breed, they die, and on and on 'The Noah' flies through space towards its destination, the planet Canaan.
This is a very good first novel, though not perfect, and among my quibbles are that The Forever Watch is a bit of a slow-burner at the start and it would be a shame if that forced readers to put down the book and not continue with a novel that unfolds into other concerns as it goes along, and there is also maybe some excessive explanation of all things scientific, perhaps because Ramirez is a molecular biologist by trade, but as a fledgling writer certainly someone worth watching in the future.
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